Laser pens pointed at aircraft
Reports of laser pens being pointed at aircrafts are on a steady rise. In 2010 the Federal Aviation Administration received 2,836 reports and in 2011 that number rose to 3,592 reports. While injury reports are fairly rare and not commonly heard about, there are some serious hazards that lasers can cause.
One of the most common initial reactions among pilots is that they are being targeted. In times when terrorist activities have forced the aviation industry to be on high alert, the initial thought that may enter a pilots mind is that the aircraft is in danger of an attack by weapon. This could cause panic and erratic decisions made out of fear, thus endangering the passengers on board and people on the ground. Commonly the laser can also be mistakenly identified for another aircraft or object that aircraft is in danger of coming in contact with. This situation could also bring catastrophic results as the pilot may try to avert a situation that really is not there.
Although the light may seem small to a person shining it from the ground, when it hits the glass of the cockpit it can spread out even more. In some instances the entire cockpit window has reported becoming obscured. The more frightening truth however, is that the effects it can have on the human eye are even longer lasting. The pilot may experience temporary blindness, glare and distortion for minutes afterwards. In extreme cases the beam could even cause permanent impairment. Either one of these effects at minimum are distracting to the crew and taking away from safely conducting normal flight operations. Any of these things are considered exceptionally dangerous for a pilot who is trying to control an aircraft, especially upon takeoff or descent.
The FAA has established that this is a direct violation of 14 CFR 91.11. This Code of Federal Regulations states that “no person may assault, threaten, intimidate, or interfere with a crewmember in the performance of the crewmembers duties aboard an aircraft being operated”. In June 2011 the FAA confirmed that pointing a laser at an aircraft is considered interfering with a crewmembers duties, even if the offender is not on the aircraft. While bills regarding criminalizing laser pointing at aircraft wait to be passed in Congress, the FAA is imposing some new rules. Over the summer, the FAA announced that they begin imposing civil penalties of up $11,000 per violation. While penalties for commercial airlines remain at a civil level, many states have made it illegal to shine lasers at law enforcement and, in many cases people can face federal charges and jail time. With the use of GPS, finding the offender is getting even easier as many times the beam reflects back down, allowing locations to be pinpointed and law enforcement action to be taken.